Hello. It looks like youre using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best Tortoise experience possible, please make sure any blockers are switched off and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help, let us know at memberhelp@tortoisemedia.com

Musking it: Inside Elon’s Twitter takeover

Musking it: Inside Elon’s Twitter takeover

0:00

The inside story of a troubled company that was bought by the world’s richest man

Why this story?

It’s hard to know what to make of Elon Musk’s $44 billion acquisition of Twitter. Was it an impulsive act of folly on the part of the world’s richest man? Or was it perhaps, as Elon Musk himself suggested, an effort to help humanity, which he claims to love? What’s less in doubt is that the story behind Elon Musk’s bid for Twitter is extraordinary. 

Two months on since he became Twitter’s owner it’s still not clear what Elon Musk plans to do with it and whether he’s going to be able to turn the company around and make it profitable. So far Elon Musk has garnered a lot of attention but not much of it is positive. He seems to have developed a love-hate relationship with the company. He has accelerated an existing plan to sack nearly half the staff. The BBC has reported that he has been staying at the company’s headquarters in San Francisco since he took over in October. He’s warned staff that they’ll need to be “extremely hardcore” to succeed. Some offices have been turned into bedrooms, presumably so staff can follow Elon Musk’s lead and never leave the office. Meanwhile, Tesla’s share price has halved since Elon Musk’s bid for Twitter in April. All of this matters because Twitter – in spite of its many shortcomings – is the closest we have to a digital public square. James Ball has spent the last few months piecing together how the deal was done and what Elon Musk’s ownership could mean for Twitter. Jasper Corbett, Editor

Transcript

“And now arguably the biggest visionary of them all, Elon Musk.”

Chris Anderson, TED founder

James Ball, narrating: In April, on the day he said he wanted to buy one of the world’s most influential social media companies, Elon Musk did an interview with TED founder Chris Anderson, on stage in Vancouver.

Chris Anderson: “Why, why make that offer?”

Elon Musk: “Oh, so, um, well, I think it’s very important for, uh, there to be an inclusive arena for free speech, uh, where all, yeah. So, uh, yeah. Um, Twitter has become kind of the de facto town square. Um, so.”

Elon Musk talking to Chris Anderson

James Ball, narrating: Elon Musk’s bid valued that town square at 44 billion dollars.

“54 dollars and 20 cents a share. I mean, that’s a crazy offer.”

Vivian Schiller, ex-head of news at Twitter

James Ball, narrating: Twitter was probably worth much less. That’s a lot of money to waste, even for the world’s richest man, which is why some think that when the tech market went south, Elon Musk cold feet.

“Suddenly 54.20 looks like an incredibly expensive price for a man who just watched his own personal wealth kind of evaporate to some extent. I mean, you know, we’re not crying for him. He’s still got plenty left.”

Ann Lipton, Tulane Law School

“He’s like an all or nothing guy. So he was like, I wanna buy Twitter. I’m all in. I’ll force this deal down their throats. Then he was like, oh god, this is a horrible idea. I’m a, I want out at all costs.”

Ross Gerber, Twitter and Tesla investor

James Ball, narrating: Elon Musk tried to get out of the deal. Twitter sued him and he sued back. Several months of bitter legal disputes followed, the great and the good of Silicon Valley were pulled into it, and then…

“Guess what? More breaking news on Twitter and Musk. We understand that…” [Fades]

Bloomberg news clip

James Ball, narrating: It was all back on again. Elon Musk eventually bought Twitter for the original price he offered and walked into its San Francisco headquarters carrying a sink, which makes you wonder whether the whole saga had been just a bit of fun for the billionaire.

“After revolutionising the space race and electric cars, the world’s richest man is now promising a Twitter makeover. Renaming his own account Chief Twit and proclaiming the bird is freed.”

NBC News clip

James Ball, narrating: But Twitter wasn’t in a happy place before Elon Musk offered to buy it. It didn’t make much, if any, profit and it faced near constant criticism about what it would and wouldn’t allow on its platform. A senior source who was at the company before the takeover told us that the previous CEO already had “a very aggressive plan” to get rid of almost half of its workforce. So it wasn’t all that surprising when Elon Musk began to do exactly that.

“This morning, thousands of Twitter employees are out of a job. After roughly half the staff received this message by email, Friday, “Today is your last working day at the company”. Elon Musk saying in a tweet, he had “no choice”.”

NBC News clips

“People need to give the guy a chance. I get it sucks to fire 4,000 entitled Twitter employees who, you know, complain all the way out the door because they don’t get free pizza and whatever anymore. But it’s happening at every company. It’s happening at Disney, it’s happening at Snapchat.”

Ross Gerber, Twitter and Tesla investor

James Ball, narrating: But it’s how Elon Musk did it, the sheer number of people and who he laid off that upset those in the firing line and which got outsiders worried.

I’m James Ball, I’m a technology journalist who’s followed the ups and downs of Elon Musk, and of Twitter, for years. In this episode of the Slow Newscast from Tortoise, Musking it: Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover.

The inside story of a troubled company that was bought by the world’s richest man. And whether his decision to sack so many staff is as controversial as it seems.

“But it’s not Elon, it’s the entire industries are now going back to offices and people are gonna have to get back to work, and the expectations are notching up and Elon’s a leader. I’ve had 10 CEOs come in and say, thank god Elon’s doing this instead of me.”

Ross Gerber, Twitter and Tesla investor

***

Paddy Cosgrave: “My name is Paddy Cosgrave. I’m the founder and CEO of Web Summit.”

James Ball: “And if people don’t know what Web Summit is, sort of what’s, what’s the quick sort of two sentence version?”

Paddy Cosgrave: “Glastonbury for geeks, Davos for nerds. I don’t like that one.”

Paddy Cosgrave, founder of Web Summit

James Ball, narrating: I’ve been going to Web Summit for years and there’s one I remember more than the others.

“At the time, the Tesla Model S had just launched and, um, was still not for sale, but effectively being launched that day on stage, um, at Web Summit.”

Paddy Cosgrave, founder of Web Summit

James Ball, narrating: 2013, the year Elon Musk came to Dublin, and the only time I’ve actually been in his presence, as he stood awkwardly in what I can only describe as a trashy nightclub, pretty late in the evening and almost totally unrecognised.

“It’s kind of like the world’s greatest dive bar that’s just pure mayhem. Like it’s absolute mayhem. When he came to Dublin his one request was that we could go to Coppers and like, you know, could we get on the guest list? And I was like, there really is no guest list for his nightclub. And then we kind of got there he was wondering where the VIP area was. I’m like, that’s not the type of nightclub we’re in.”

Paddy Cosgrave, founder of Web Summit

James Ball, narrating: But earlier in the day, Elon Musk had been the star of the show.

“There was no Model S in Ireland at the time. I don’t even know if there was one in Europe. So it had to be flown in literally last moment, driven off a plane and, uh, into, uh, backstage of the Web Summit area. Um, and then, uh, was driven on stage, um, with the Taoiseach, or the Prime Minister, um, in it. And out they got, and they had a little conversation on stage. I mean, it’s kind of a, a window onto, uh, onto the type of person, uh, that Musk is. You know, there’s a high level of audacity and he just, he pushes the envelope in, uh, in every direction, I think.”

Paddy Cosgrave, founder of Web Summit

James Ball, narrating: That audacity comes up a lot when you talk to people who know him.

“That’s probably the perfect word to describe him and his ambitions for SpaceX. Um, I have actually used that, that word quite a bit to describe his, his plan to settle Mars one day with humans. It is an audacious idea.”

Eric Berger, Elon Musk biographer

James Ball, narrating: Eric Berger wrote a biography of Elon Musk called ‘Liftoff’ about the early days of SpaceX, Elon Musk’s rocket company.

“The most apt word I would use to describe him probably is driven. Um, he has an incredible amount of energy, um, and always has, is, is basically full of ideas. And unlike a lot of people, he just doesn’t have ideas, but he wants to put them into motion.”

Eric Berger, Elon Musk biographer

James Ball, narrating: Twitter had seven and a half thousand employees when Elon Musk bought it. He fired half in one fell swoop and then asked those remaining to sign a pledge to be “hardcore” or else quit. The company is now believed to have just 2,300 people left.

It’s Elon Musk’s drive to get things done that appears to have been his undoing. He rushed into it and then some of those who were let go were asked to come back. 

Publicly though, Elon Musk doubled down, tweeting that he had “no choice” but to make cuts, given the company is, according to him, losing over 4 million dollars a day.

“The kind of abiding impression I was left with was that in private, you know, he’s a very reflective, quiet, you know, you could say awkward, uh, person. Um, but his public persona is just, is just off the charts. It’s just, uh, it’s just gigantic. And, um, they’re almost kind of diametrically sort of, uh, opposed like in a, in a room with almost no one he’s quite reserved and, um, and, and quiet, and at the same time is able to pull off these huge public, uh, stunts.”

Paddy Cosgrave, founder of Web Summit

James Ball, narrating: That contrast between Elon Musk’s public persona and what he’s like in private came up during a conversation with a senior person at Twitter who was there before he took over. They said he’s “more thoughtful in private”, but in public can be, in their words, “a twat”.

We’ve spoken to people at all levels of Twitter, but most of them have asked to be anonymous. That’s because they’re either covered by confidentiality agreements or those who’ve left recently are still waiting for payouts.

***

“Given the fact that Twitter serves as the de facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy. What should be done?”

Elon Musk tweet

James Ball, narrating: Not long after sending that tweet to his more than 108 million followers, Elon Musk became Twitter’s second biggest shareholder.

Concerned about his intentions the company tried to hug him close. It offered him a place on the board. Twitter was right to be concerned. Its chief executive, Parag Agrawal, texted Elon Musk asking him to tone down his public statements. The reply from the billionaire was stark.

“I’m not joining the board. This is a waste of time. Will make an offer to take Twitter private.”

Elon Musk text message

James Ball, narrating: Just five days later, Elon Musk put his money where his mouth was. On the 14th of April, he formally offered to buy Twitter for 44 billion dollars. That’s a lot of money for a company that’s much smaller than its rivals. Twitter’s never made anything like as much profit as Facebook, TikTok or even Snapchat. But his plan to buy it made a lot of people nervous, because Twitter is the nearest thing the internet has to a real time public square.

“It punches above its weight in terms of the number of its users because what Twitter then effectively becomes is sort of a wire service.”

Vivian Schiller, ex-head of news at Twitter

James Ball, narrating: Vivian Schiller was head of news at Twitter and is now executive director of Aspen Digital.

“Say the former president of the United States has something to say, he tweets, there it is. The news media pay attention to it. Um, likewise, when ordinary citizens like a guy who just happened to be, um, awake in the middle of the night in Abbotabad, um, a number of years ago, heard the helicopters, uh, overhead. Was the first to basically, uh, reveal that, uh, Osama bin Laden was about to be captured. Although he didn’t know it at the time. So all of these things make, um, give Twitter both urgency, uh, and newsworthiness and relevance, and, um, as a result, journalists pay a lot of attention to it and amplify it.”

Vivian Schiller, ex-head of news at Twitter

James Ball, narrating: That’s why Twitter had spent a lot of time developing rules about what you can and can’t post. It’s called content moderation, and it’s something Elon Musk said he wanted to significantly scale back.

Chris Anderson: “You’ve described yourself, Elon, as a free speech absolutist, but does that mean that there’s literally nothing that people can’t say and it’s okay?”

Elon Musk: “Well, I think, uh, obviously, uh, Twitter or any forum is bound by the laws of the country that it operates in. Um, obviously there are some limitations on free speech, uh, in, in the US and, and of course, uh, Twitter would have to abide by those, uh, rules.”

Elon Musk talking to Chris Anderson

James Ball, narrating: His view is essentially that if it’s not illegal…

“If in doubt…”

Elon Musk talking to Chris Anderson

James Ball, narrating: Then it’s fine.

“Let the speech, let, let it exist.”

Elon Musk talking to Chris Anderson

James Ball, narrating: People close to Elon Musk have confirmed to us that it’s this free speech issue that motivated him in private as well as in public. He seems to mean it when he says it’s the main reason for his decision to buy Twitter.

“It’s important to the function of democracy, um, it’s important to the function of, uh, the United States, uh, as a free country and many other countries, and to help actually, to help freedom in the world.”

Elon Musk talking to Chris Anderson

James Ball, narrating: But a senior source who was at the company before the takeover doesn’t think the social network is nearly as important as Elon Musk thinks it is.

“Elon thinks that Twitter is part of the fundamental fabric of democracy. I completely disagree.”

Senior source at Twitter before the takeover

James Ball, narrating: They think that’s because he has “an extremely distorted view of Twitter in the world”, because he uses it to an extreme degree and point out that “he’s got three times the amount of followers than Trump ever had.”

“People that work at Twitter, uh, for the most part, tend to be quite evangelical about the platform. I know when I was there I was. This has got to be heartbreaking for them. I mean, many people that have, especially people that have been there for years, who have built this platform, that believe in its, um, its power as you know, a digital town square. Who are trying to mitigate for, um, for bots and for harms. This has to be pretty devastating. Um, somebody who doesn’t respect content moderation, you know, who doesn’t, uh, necessarily, uh, respect the platform and, you know, has shown tremendous disrespect to, to executives and the people of Twitter who, you know, toil there day in and day out. How could that not be demoralising?”

Vivian Schiller, ex-head of news at Twitter

James Ball, narrating: A senior source at Twitter before Elon Musk took over thinks there wasn’t a single person on the board who wanted him to own the company, except “maybe” Jack Dorsey, who quit as Twitter CEO in 2021, but was still on the board when Elon Musk made his offer. 

They think Jack had “a bit of a crush” on the world’s richest man.

“Elon was always the person that Jack wanted to come and talk to the company.”

Senior source at Twitter before the takeover

James Ball, narrating: But despite the general opposition, Twitter’s board unanimously agreed to his offer.

“When you are a publicly traded company you need to serve your shareholder. And when you get a, uh, offer that high in this economy, you take it.”

Vivian Schiller, ex-head of news at Twitter

James Ball, narrating: A source says the board “called his bluff” by signing the merger agreement quickly, committing both sides to move forward with the deal in good faith. They think Elon Musk believed it was going to be more of a public fight, but it wasn’t. The fight was still to come.

***

“Melissa, Twitter is suing Elon Musk in Delaware court for violating…” [Fades]

CNBC news clip

James Ball, narrating: Elon Musk tried to pull out the deal and Twitter argued that wasn’t possible because he’d signed that agreement.

“Just looking through the filing here, um, it says, quote, “Musk apparently believes that he, unlike every other party subject to Delaware contract law is free to change his mind, trash the company, disrupt his operations, destroy stockholder value and walk away.””

CNBC news clip

James Ball, narrating: He couldn’t just change his mind.

“So merger contracts are drafted to really narrow the number of things that you can cancel the deal over to prevent buyer’s remorse from cancelling deals between signing and closing.

My name is Ann Lipton. I’m an associate professor of law at Tulane Law School.

The markets turned right after he signed the deal and his personal wealth was impacted. So, I mean, his wealth is basically Tesla stock and Tesla stock, along with everybody else’s, kind of dived. So suddenly this purchase looked a lot more expensive for him personally.”

Ann Lipton, associate professor at Tulane Law School

James Ball, narrating: Elon Musk countersued Twitter and made all sorts of claims about it misleading him over the number of fake accounts on the platform. They traded damaging blows in court filings until, with their day in court looming, Elon Musk did something out of character. He folded.

“Twitter had a very good chance of prevailing in court and forcing him to buy the company. And the more he drags this out, the more he actually damages Twitter. And so if he’s the person who’s gonna end up buying the company, he may have decided that he would rather not buy a company that was thrown into even more turmoil by his own actions.”

Ann Lipton, associate professor at Tulane Law School

James Ball, narrating: Twitter, though, didn’t immediately call off the dogs. It asked the judge to supervise the final stages of the takeover. Twitter was looking for ironclad certainty that Elon Musk would buy the company. At one point it was willing to offer him a discount to get the deal over the line. That discount would’ve saved him around a billion dollars. But because of all the public uncertainty Elon Musk created, that offer fell apart.

***

Ross Gerber: “I mean, he’s like it all or nothing, guy. So he was like, I wanna buy Twitter. I’m all in. I’ll force this deal down there throats. Then he is like, oh god, this is a horrible idea. I’m, I want out at all costs. Then the judge was basically like, I’m sorry, you bought this company, so you’re gonna end up with this company either way. And then he like flips back and he’s like, I’m all in then, I’m just gonna do this. Okay, fine, I’m doing it and I’m gonna do it with a vengeance. And, and that’s what he’s doing.

My name is Ross Gerber. I’m president and CEO of Gerber Kawasaki Wealth and Investment Management. I am one of the fortunate investors in the private company of Twitter with Elon.”

James Ball: “So what’s it like being a private shareholder at Twitter? Had a good first month?”

Ross Gerber: “Yeah, it was actually perfect. It was exactly as planned.”

Ross Gerber, Twitter and Tesla investor

James Ball, narrating: Ross Gerber isn’t always being a hundred percent serious or sincere, or at least I don’t think he is. Speaking to him is head spinning. He’s fast talking and he’s a big fan of the world’s richest man. He’s also invested in Elon Musk’s electric car company, Tesla.

“Elon functions around extremely difficult challenges and pain, and when things get too good for Elon, he has to destroy that. And so he functions, actually the best when he’s actually in the most, worst position possible. So it’s kinda like, if you remember Rocky, the movie, okay, when did Rocky get tough? When he was about to get knocked out. Okay. And then he, like, comes back and wins the fight. Like, that’s Elon. 

So if he’s just like winning the fight like he was with Tesla, like Tesla’s won, like we won the fight. Like Tesla’s one of the biggest companies in the world, it’s gonna grow into trillions dollars. And he is like, oh, it’s, it’s too easy. I’m having too much fun. You know, maybe what would be the worst experience I could have, the most difficult beast to try to tame? Oh, I’ll take it for Twitter. 

So he jumped on the beast, and the beast is just like bucking him around and he’s trying to get this thing under control. I give him, you know, that’s why I support him. I, I think it needs to be, you know, handled right. And, and from what I think is that this is the best possible person to be running Twitter.”

Ross Gerber, Twitter and Tesla investor

James Ball, narrating: Ross Gerber isn’t a complete fanboy though. He thinks Elon Musk should have set up a content moderation committee to make decisions about banned accounts. Something Twitter’s new boss said he’d do, but hasn’t so far. Instead, Elon Musk made the decision to reinstate Donald Trump by asking Twitter users to vote at a poll he posted on his feed.

“It shouldn’t be Elon’s Twitter. It should just be Twitter. And this is one of the mistakes he’s made by being so vocally frontman of the business, right now, when he should have had a team of like six people of every colour, you know. Like they should have picked, you know, every colour, a white, a blue, a green, a yellow, whatever colour you are. So you have like every group on this moderation committee. You see what I’m saying? And then you let them take all the blame. But instead he is like, yes, this is good; yes, this is bad. You could tweet him and he’ll tell you yes, this is good; no, this is bad. And this was exactly what I told him not to do, which is to be the singular judge of content in the world. It’s a horrible job to be in because the subtleties and nuances of free speech and hate speech is a tough one.”

Ross Gerber, Twitter and Tesla investor

James Ball, narrating: That was one of the concerns that people like Viv Schiller had before Elon Musk bought Twitter.

“He’s using the term free speech, like a, as a very, very blunt instrument. Meaning that basically anything goes and, um, other than, you know, specifically illegal speech. I think he would find if that’s the actual way that he would run Twitter, the place would turn into a cesspool pretty quickly and undermine whatever value that Elon Musk sees in it today, including as a place where influential people, uh, you know, see and can be seen. Uh, so he’s not given, I think, very deep thought to what he means by content moderation.”

Vivian Schiller, ex-head of news at Twitter

James Ball, narrating: Several Twitter staff expressed deep concerns to me about Elon Musk’s understanding of this issue before he came into the company. Laws are different in each country, but so is what’s offensive and the cultural context. His hope for a global technological fix could, several of them said, never hope to replace in-country staff with local expertise. While every department has been cut, these kinds of in-country teams, people who didn’t write code but kept Twitter working all the same, have often been asked entirely. Several sources think that will do long-term damage. So it was surprising when a senior source who was at Twitter before Elon Musk’s takeover was rather more optimistic.

“In terms of the actual long-term sense of Twitter. I don’t think he’ll destroy it, actually. I think everybody’s getting completely hysterical. I think there’s a lot of things that needed to be better at Twitter. He might make them a lot better. He might make the engineering capacity a lot better. Parag had a very aggressive plan to take out half the workforce nearly. So I don’t think he’ll be as catastrophic as some people think.”

Senior source at Twitter before the takeover

James Ball, narrating: Twitter certainly had issues before the takeover. New product innovation was slow, user growth was non-existent and moderation was always controversial. And while Twitter sold over 4 billion dollars worth of adverts every year, it was still making almost no profit. So there was definitely a case for a new owner to swoop in.

“Elon is not a guy who wakes up in the morning with bad intent, okay? And I think the media’s working really hard to make it seem like there’s some negative intent here. Okay? Actually what he’s done is he put his reputation, a lot of his money at risk, to try to make this thing better for people. He is. Okay? Any perception that Twitter was being run correctly. There wasn’t tonnes of hate speech and all kinds of sh- crap going on already. So the fact that we have somebody in here, an American, a patriot, and somebody who really wants to do a good job and make money. Where’s the downside here?”

Ross Gerber, Twitter and Tesla investor

James Ball, narrating: Elon Musk too has remained unrealistically optimistic about how well Twitter is doing post takeover. He claims spam is down, hate speech is down and Twitter is being used by more people than ever.

“Twitter usage is at an all-time high lol”

Elon Musk tweet

James Ball, narrating: But the site has been publicly in chaos every day. In early December, Elon Musk released internal company documents and emails, from before his takeover, to a selection of handpicked journalists, claiming they proved government interference in censoring tweets about Hunter Biden’s laptop (a popular right wing conspiracy theory). They did not.\

He also criticised Apple for the fee it charges companies for purchases in apps. He posted a meme suggesting he was willing to “go to war” rather than pay it and claimed Apple had threatened to block Twitter from its App Store. He then deleted his tweets after a visit to Apple’s campus to see its CEO Tim Cook.

“Good conversation. Amongst other things we resolved the misunderstanding about Twitter potentially being removed from the App Store. Tim was clear that Apple never considered doing so.”

Elon Musk tweet

James Ball, narrating: He reinstated Kanye West only to suspend his account again for tweeting a swastika inside the Star of David.

The informal rule among some on Twitter is never to be the social network’s main character. The person everyone else is tweeting about. Elon Musk has played that role daily. Twitter sources say this public chaos mirrors what is going on in private.

After missing payroll for its European employees, an attempt to trigger payments manually went so badly it tripped anti-money laundering protections at the bank, creating a further delay. As one source wondered, if you can’t manage to get out payroll, how can you deal with a real emergency?

Engineers were fired and then Twitter begged them to come back. Staff were told they must work from the office or quit, and then told they could work remotely.

“People need to give the guy a chance. I get it sucks to fire 4,000 entitled Twitter employees who, you know, complain all the way out the door because they don’t get free pizza and whatever anymore. But it’s happening at every company. It’s happening at Disney, it’s happening at Snapchat. Snapchat just said they’re gonna force everybody to come back to the office. But it’s not Elon. It’s the entire industries are now going back to offices and people are gonna have to get back to work. And the expectations are notching up and Elon’s a leader. I’ve had 10 CEOs come in and say, thank God Elon’s doing this instead of me.”

Ross Gerber, Twitter and Tesla investor

James Ball, narrating: Ross Gerber invests in the world’s richest man for a reason. He believes Elon Musk’s companies will make him money. But former Twitter staff are wondering what will fail first: Twitter’s infrastructure or Elon Musk’s reputation?

***

James Ball, narrating: Up until now Elon Musk looked like a good bet. He bought Tesla when it was obscure with no experience in the industry and turned it into the world’s most valuable carmaker. He then launched a space travel company and its rocket’s work. So far, all Elon Musk has done is win for investors.

“So I get why people aren’t comfortable with Elon Musk. I think there’s an, a lot of outright hostility, um, and he brings a lot, he brings a lot of that on himself with the things he says, the way he does them and his actions. Um, and so I understand all of that. Uh, with that being said, I do think the concerns are probably overstated. You know, at the end of the day, Musk companies make great products that people love. You know, people who own Teslas by and large love their cars and continue buying them. SpaceX builds the best rocket in the world.”

Eric Berger, Elon Musk biographer

James Ball, narrating: Now he has to explain why, instead of focusing on the stars, or at least his mission to colonise Mars, he’s bought a struggling social network. Twitter has never looked like a good bet because its profits don’t give it enough scale to hire engineers to fix its problems quickly enough. And the nature of the service means constant legal and regulatory headaches.

The European Union has already told Elon Musk that it could ban or fine Twitter unless it abides by strict content moderation rules and the US government has indicated that it’s ready to review his purchase of the company.

But when I asked Ross Gerber about the impact that owning Twitter could have on Elon Musk’s investors, and his own wealth, he seemed surprisingly relaxed.

James Ball: “Essentially, people are saying Tesla stock trades as it does because people believe in Elon. Elon screws up Twitter. People stop believing in Elon. Tesla stock stops being what it is, you know.”

Ross Gerber: “Hasn’t this just happened? He’s lost probably a hundred billion, right? And it’s like, and we’ve lost like probably 50 million since he bought Twitter, you know? And I’m like, so Tesla stock actually is not trading like Elon is some genius anymore.”

Ross Gerber, Twitter and Tesla investor

James Ball, narrating: He really did say 100 billion with a ‘b’. Elon Musk isn’t just on the hook for the stake he put into Twitter. Almost all of his wealth is in Tesla. And Tesla stocks are priced as if they were a bet on the world’s richest man. Twitter is now a private company, so no one can sell off its stock. So if people feel worried about Elon Musk, they sell Tesla stock, and that’s what they’ve been doing. He’s still very, very rich, but not nearly so rich as when he bought Twitter.

Back in April, when he sat down with TED founder Chris Anderson, Elon Musk acknowledged that owning the company wouldn’t be easy.

Chris Anderson: “Last week when we spoke Elon, um, I asked you whether you were thinking of taking over. You said no way. You said, I I do not want to own Twitter. It is a recipe for misery. Everyone will blame me for everything. What on earth changed?”

Elon Musk: “No, I think, I think everyone will still blame me for everything . Yeah. If something, if I acquire Twitter and something goes wrong, it’s my fault a hundred percent. I think there will be quite a few errors.”

Elon Musk talking to Chris Anderson

James Ball, narrating: Perhaps that’s why Elon Musk has put himself front and centre at Twitter, but it’s also why Ross Gerber thinks he needs to step back.

“I’m hoping in the next month, which I doubt, but maybe quarter that he’ll have a new CEO for Twitter. I, I don’t think he’s suited to be CEO of Twitter.”

Ross Gerber, Twitter and Tesla investor

James Ball, narrating: Fans of Elon Musk say we’re just seeing his usual playbook. Just like when he bought what became Tesla and SpaceX. Come in, kick everything down and get it working like he wants it to work. Everything will be a mess for a while, and then the magical will kick in.

But Tesla and SpaceX were tiny when Elon Musk bought them. Twitter wasn’t. It was, and still is, the internet’s global public square. He’s bought it, trashed it by getting rid of nearly three quarters of its staff, not just half, and he’s promising to build a better one. Maybe he will, but right now all we can see is the wreckage.

***

James Ball, narrating: We contacted Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey and Parag Agrawal to ask for their responses to our reporting. We didn’t hear back from any of them.

When we asked Tesla to ask for an interview with Elon Musk before the Twitter deal was completed they told us that “between running Tesla and SpaceX, Elon has to forgo all non-critical requests.”

The allegation was that he’d assaulted a woman nearly a quarter of a century earlier in 1998 when she was 26 and working at an investment bank in London. At the time, Crispin Odey was a client of the bank. He was 39 and already managing vast sums of money.

He and the woman ended up at Crispin Odey’s house in Chelsea. When they were there, the court heard Crispin Odey ordered a Chinese takeaway, had a shower, and changed out of his suit into a robe. Then the prosecution alleged he assaulted the woman in his kitchen. According to her evidence, he lunged at her and was all over her like an octopus. She felt his hands scrambling over her, on her breasts, down her shirt, on her back, up her skirt. A general attempt, she said, “to get involved with my body.” She said that she was then forced to wrestle him off and run out the door.

Giving evidence in his defence, Crispin Odey told the court that things unfolded differently. “We were talking away,” he said, “and she suddenly said to me, “Why are you being so nice to me and where do you think this is all going to end?’” 

Crispin Odey continued, “I’m ashamed to say, well, if I’m lucky, it might end in bed.” He added, “She seemed very keen. I probably misread the signals a bit.” He told the court that she immediately became very angry. “Obviously, it was the last thing she had expected me to say. I totally misunderstood her question and she got up and I tried to apologise and we walked in silence downstairs to the door and I let her out.” He said the woman was exaggerating massively what had happened.

Crispin Odey’s lawyer asked him whether he’d have taken the opportunity to sleep with the woman that night had the chance arisen. “I might have,” he replied. “I don’t know. It didn’t happen.”

Crispin Odey described the allegation that he’d assaulted the woman as a horrible slur with great shame. It had caused an enormous strain on his marriage and was deeply embarrassing. “I am an innocent man,” he said. His wife, who at the time of the alleged assault, was pregnant with their third child, was with him in court. So was the Evangelical Christian leader and old friend, John Mumford.

Crispin Odey’s lawyer criticised the woman for what he said was a natural tendency to embellish and exaggerate, which he said made her look like an unreliable historian. He highlighted problems with her evidence. She didn’t remember what time of day the alleged assault took place, what age Crispin Odey was at the time, and what words were spoken at his house.

After two and a half days of evidence, the court broke for lunch and half an hour later, the judge Nicholas Rimmer delivered his verdict. In his summary, he said of the woman that “despite the strength of her emotion and tears, her credibility has been thrown into question and her evidence is riddled with troubling inconsistencies.” He concluded that these inconsistencies cast doubt on the prosecution’s case.

Turning to Crispin Odey he said: “Where there is any doubt in a criminal case, given the high standard of proof, it must be resolved in favour of the defendant. I cannot dismiss the possibility that no more than your unwanted verbal advance or proposition to the complainant occurred on the evening in question.” And he added some further considerations which weighed in Crispin Odey’s favour and against the woman. “I find troubling her obvious preoccupation with the press, with your money and her apparent desire for publicity of her complaint.”

The judge found Crispin Odey not guilty of the indecent assault judge. He ended by saying, “You will leave this courthouse with your good character intact.” Before he did that, Crispin Odey shook hands with his lawyer, mopped his brow with a handkerchief and said, “The relief. The relief is awful. Thank you. There were just too many inconsistencies.”

I spent some time understanding that court case for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it’s because over the past two months I have documented the stories of four other women who alleged Crispin Odey sexually assaulted them. So it has to give me pause for thought to remember that when similar allegations were tested in front of a judge, he found in Crispin Odey’s favour. In those circumstances, how do I square the court’s judgement, not all that long ago, with my job as a journalist to investigate and report other allegations that seemed to overlap?

The second reason I’ve dwelled on the trial is that it gave me the opportunity to reflect what Crispin Odey said when he was confronted with a charge that he’d indecently assaulted someone. As I’ll explain later, I’ve wanted to speak to Crispin Odey for this podcast to get his version of events just as the court did, but he hasn’t wanted to talk to me. What he said in court about the misunderstanding he said happened back in 1998 is the best insight I can get into how he squared his view of an encounter at his home in Chelsea with a woman who’d seen it very differently.

I’m Paul Caruana Galizia and in this episode of the Slow Newscast from Tortoise, ‘Octopus: The allegations against Crispin Odey’, the story of one of Britain’s richest and most powerful men and the serious allegations against him.

***

When I started reporting this story, I was really struck by those words of the judge: “You will leave this courthouse with your good character intact.” 

They were so at odds with what people were claiming to me about their own experiences of Crispin Odey:

“They literally warned: ‘Don’t be alone with him.’”

“I was totally floored. It came out of the blue.”

“He just lunged at me. Suddenly he was physically right over me. 

“He leaned over and he put both hands on both breasts…”

“He was groping everywhere and his tongue…”

“… and sort of, kind of, attacking me.”

Paul, narrating: When you set about investigating a story like this, you find yourself questioning what you’re doing all the way through. You wonder whether it would ever be possible to establish exactly what happened when only two people were in a room together. You ask yourself whether you’ve done all you can to hear each side of the story and whether you’ve gone the extra mile to gather all the information that could matter. And you have to remind yourself throughout that in the one case that reached court, the woman was not believed. 

At the same time, you feel you can’t ignore what you’re told, that when different people who don’t know each other make similar allegations, you should pay attention. Allegations like this typically only make the news when they’re about celebrities or politicians rather than people in positions of power in finance and business.

Obviously, a reporter can’t and shouldn’t be judge and jury, but it seems to me a journalist should at least investigate. When I started looking into the allegations, some people I spoke to said Crispin Odey’s behaviour with women was just old-fashioned, not something that crossed the line into legal wrongdoing. Others talked to me about what they described as his unwanted advances.

I found it helpful to look up a few definitions:

  • Sexual harassment is defined as unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature, whether verbal or physical, intended or not. 
  • Sexual assault is defined as an act of physical, psychological, and emotional violation inflicted on someone without their consent. It doesn’t necessarily involve violence, but it can cause severe distress, which is why the police treat it as seriously as violent physical attacks.

As with any story you want to hear from the person who’s at the centre of it. I first approached Crispin Odey requesting an interview on 21 November. I gave him a list of areas I’d like to ask him about including the allegations of sexual assault and harassment. I sent the request by email and to his personal number on WhatsApp, which indicated that he had received and read my message, but he didn’t reply. I then emailed Crispin Odey and the chief executive of his company, Odey Asset Management, on 25 November with a detailed list of the allegations so they’d have the opportunity to respond to my reporting.

Just before our deadline, I received two emails. The first was from Odey Asset Management’s chief executive, Peter Martin. It read:

“The executive committee of Odey Asset Management is independent to Crispin Odey and treats all allegations extremely seriously. Odey Asset Management has robust policies and procedures and staff wellbeing is central to the culture of our business. Due to confidentiality and privacy issues, it would be inappropriate to respond to your claims.”

Paul, narrating: The second was from Crispin Odey via his personal assistant. It said that my email to him:

“Contains very many falsehoods and inaccuracies. There is clearly nothing to be gained by my engaging with you on any level by way of a response as you are clearly not interested in what I have to say and are paying lip service to your own responsibilities. It is of note that you admit that you have already come to conclusions based on findings and research. This all points to a preordained agenda and the approach outlined by you is neither fair nor responsible journalism. If you proceed regardless, then you will be aware of the possible consequences.”

Paul, narrating: But I do really want to hear his side of the story. I reply to this email again requesting an interview with him. I make it clear that I haven’t reached any conclusions. That’s not my role. I want to listen to his version of events. He doesn’t respond.

Crispin Odey first made the news as a lanky, bespectacled, whizz-kid who took big risks with clients’ money and paid himself enormous bonuses. And then he made a series of trades that highlighted how he mixed his financial interests with his political beliefs. Most famously among them was Brexit. Crispin Odey publicly talked up the economic benefits of leaving the EU. Privately, he was betting that the value of British companies and the pound would collapse in the event of a Leave vote. He had donated £800,000 to Leave groups and Ukip in the runup to the referendum. He’s also donated around £300,000 to the Conservative party over the past 15 years.

Separately, he gave £10,000 to Boris Johnson for his leadership campaign, and since 2010, he’s given almost £30,000 to Jacob Rees-Mogg, who once worked with him.

Crispin Odey has always denied profiting from his access to politicians and his social connections. He told the Financial Times that “There’s a mad idea that one’s behind every twist and turn. All I can do is catch the wind now and again.” But an old friend of his told me, “Crispin loves people. When we speak, he tells me he’s having dinner with so and so or meeting this minister or that minister.” And it’s his relationship with another former employee that attracted attention.

Kwasi Kwarteng worked for Crispin Odey before he became an MP in 2010. He continued to work as a consultant for Crispin Odey’s company after he’d been elected. They remained close enough so that in July this year Crispin Odey invited Kwasi Kwarteng, then business secretary, to his Chelsea home for a private lunch that he cooked. This was during the Tori leadership race when Kwasi Kwarteng was being mentioned for one of the top jobs in government if Liz Truss won.

Crispin Odey told the Times, “They never discussed anything but the usual gossip of politics.” He added that at the time, “Kwasi Kwarteng wasn’t optimistic about getting a major job in government.” But a few weeks after that lunch Liz Truss became prime minister and appointed Kwasi Kwarteng as her chancellor.

Over the summer they drew up plans for their tax cuts and public borrowing. After Kwasi Kwarteng announced those plans in his September mini-budget, the stock market and the pound crashed, with investors fearing the UK was on a ruinous fiscal path. But Crispin Odey’s funds soared because he had bet that the pound would fall. Then in an attempt to halt the crash, Kwasi Kwarteng reversed the cut to the top rate of income tax. The pound recovered some of its losses and Crispin Odey’s funds soared again because by then he had reversed his position on the pound and had bet that it would rise. His fund strategy with its long-running bets against UK government bonds and the pound, and which had about £800 million in it in August, returned 25 per cent the following month. His performance this year reverses six years of poor returns. In fact, 2022 is shaping up to be his best year yet. His fund is up by 193 per cent.

Someone who’s lunched with him for many years says that Crispin Odey is, “A man who, whatever the temperature, sweats.” He has changed since his lanky whizz-kid days and has developed what an old school friend calls “a lot of prosperity around his middle.” A ruddy faced ​​bon viveur, Crispin Odey cultivates the image of an old school investor and a country squire.

“You might have been up all night, but I’m feeling fresh as a daisy…

“Well, I think at that point I really would be tasting. I would be drinking heavily, I think, actually.”

Crispin Odey

Paul, narrating: He enjoys grouse shooting and salmon fishing. In interviews, he sometimes refers to his family “seat” in Yorkshire. This is Hotham Hall, a 4,000-acre estate. His mother inherited it from her brother in the 1970s. Dick Odey, Crispin’s father, worked for a tannery business but made the wrong bets just as the leather market globalised. He lost his job and lived on handouts from his own father for the rest of his life. This was George Odey. He was much more successful in the tannery business than his son. He became a Tory MP and retired rich.

Crispin Odey would call his father a “wastrel” and his grandfather a “bully”. He was sent to school at Harrow where he excelled academically before going on to study economics and history at Christchurch College, Oxford.

George Odey wanted his grandson to become a barrister. Crispin Odey completed his law course in 1983, but he hated law. He felt like a poor lawyer and saw that a stockbroker friend was making much more money than he was. “Crispin,” the friend told him, “you could do this standing on your head.”

Crispin Odey rebelled against his grandfather and joined a fund management company. George Odey was not happy. Meanwhile, to keep his parents financially afloat, Crispin Odey sold Hotham Hall in 1984. The family trustees told him to see it as a blessing, which would force him to seek his own fortune.

A year later in 1985, he joined one of the great city institutions, Barings. The stock market was rising and he made a lot of money. In that same year he married Prudence Murdoch, Rupert’s elder’s daughter and his grandfather died.

Crispin Odey learned that he had been written out of the will. George Odey left him nothing except an empty suitcase that fell apart when he tried to use it – and so too did Crispin Odey’s marriage.

A year after their wedding, Prudence Murdoch told friends that she couldn’t bear to be with Crispin Odey any longer. He was, she told them, “too eccentric.” He’d collect people from bus stops and train stations to attend evangelical prayer groups. They got divorced.

By 1991, he had done well enough at Barings to go it alone. He raised about a hundred million pounds to start his own hedge fund company, Odey Asset Management. It was a bumpy start. His fund returned 60 per cent in 1993, a performance he wouldn’t beat for almost three decades. But the following year it almost collapsed when the US Federal Reserve unexpectedly raised interest rates. He climbed his way back, year by year, so that by the late 1990s he was seen as a star manager again and was making millions of pounds.

“One of the fun things in my life is that one gets more patient as one gets older and therefore actually until something happens, I don’t make the changes. I mean, my portfolio is very much… it’s an understanding of what is happening now and how is that refracted through a stock market and always looking ahead to say what could happen and what would I own then, and that’s… the pleasure is it’s always changing.”

Crispin Odey

Paul, narrating: Then the first of the trades that made him famous, he correctly predicted the value of insurers would rise after the September 11 terror attacks. He summarised his investment philosophy a few months later as: “buy wives and short mistresses”. Seven years later, ahead of the 2008 global financial crisis, he bet the value of British banks would fall. His firm made £55 million. His share was £28 million.

Crispin Odey next tried to make a success out of Brexit. Ahead of which he purchased private polling data that indicated a leave victory shortly before the vote. He bet the stock market and pound would collapse and his funds made £220 million overnight.

“There’s that Italian expression, ‘Il mattino ha l’oro in bocca’ – the morning has gold in its mouth. And never has one felt so much that idea as this morning, really… I still think tomorrow they’re going to take it all away from me.”

Crispin Odey

Paul, narrating: The markets did. They unexpectedly rebounded after the initial turmoil, wiping out Crispin Odey’s gains and sending him back into the wilderness for the next six years.

Crispin Odey gave that interview at one of the 18th-century townhouses in Mayfair, which is home to the offices of Odey Asset Management. Inside there are dark wooden tables, sideboards and chairs from the same period, heavy curtains and oil paintings of rural idylls. Fund managers say that the reception desk at Odey Asset Management put boxes of shotgun cartridges out on Fridays so that the firm’s senior staff could pick some up on their way to their shooting weekends.

Crispin Odey hired the sons of barons and earls plus the odd marquist, viscount and a Habsburg to work for him. Few women held senior positions in his company. I have spoken to a number of women who work there and I have also spoken to women who know him socially. Some of those women described him as charming and had no bad experiences with him, but others painted a very different picture. All the women I’ve spoken to asked not to be named. One of them has allowed us to use her real voice. The others will be voiced by actors reading their words.

“I knew he was taking some of the other girls out for lunch, other receptionists.”

Paul, narrating: Recently, this woman worked as a receptionist at Odey Asset Management. She took the job on a temporary basis because it was much better paid than any other jobs she had done and because she hoped it might lead to a career in finance. At a City event, she met some people who knew Crispin Odey.

“They just started hinting about his behaviour. So at this point, nothing had happened. He’d just been quite charming, a little bit inappropriate, just a bit too much. It was just like that creepy old man, but not, like, dangerous. And they just said, ‘Oh, I bet he really likes you.’ And I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ And they just kept making these hints and jokes about his behaviour. They all knew what he was like. Oh, these were guys way older than me. They were in their 40s and 50s and had been in the industry a long time, and they basically told me what it was like, but with humour. You know, it’s like a joke, like a massive joke.”

Paul, narrating: At this stage, she was still prepared to see things as maybe not funny, but benign. Crispin Odey had a knack of finding her when she was alone at the front desk and everyone else was busy in their offices. He’d go down and chat to her.

“He was showing interest in me and talking about helping to get me a job and to introduce me to people or maybe get me a role at Odey. And I suddenly felt like, ‘Oh, this is really, really nice.’ And he would ask a lot about me, like, ‘What did my family do? Where was I from?’”

Paul, narrating: Looking back, she felt that he may have been…

“… trying to get a sense of: was I somebody? Did I have money? And am I somebody that he could prey on, essentially, without worrying about it too much?”

Paul, narrating: Because within the first week of her time at Odey Asset Management, things began to take a different turn.

“It got to a point where I was on the phone and he would come down and start massaging my shoulders and start asking me really inappropriate things. So he’d be, ‘Oh, is your boyfriend into foreplay?’ Things like that. Just really, really gross. And I would try and get away and he’d just pull me back.

“At one point I was in my chair, he’d be behind me. I was on the phone, so I was a bit trapped, and then I sat forward trying to get away from him. He just grabbed my shoulders and pulled me back. It was just really not particularly nice.

“Then I told my superior about it and I said, ‘He’s kind of been massaging my shoulders. I’m not really sure I’d want him to do that.’ And she was like, ‘Oh, he does that to everyone. He does it all the time.’

“It got to a point where I would hide in the office if he was coming in. If there were other people there, I knew I was safe. Sometimes they’d bring in another temp. And there were a couple of girls I literally warned, ‘Don’t be alone with him. You’ll be fine because you are new, but I’m going to hide in this cupboard because I don’t want to have to deal with him.’ So I’d see him coming in through the front door and I would literally just leg it to try and get away from him.”

Paul, narrating: The woman kept a written record of her time at Odey Asset Management. She shared some of it with me:

  • Friday 14th – “Returned from boozy lunch and compliments my outfit, jeans, white shirt, blazer. Keeps looking at my chest, asks me if I have any more outfits to show off. I say, ‘I can’t afford new outfits.’ He asks if I will sell my body to pay for new clothes. He starts rubbing my shoulders in middle of a call. Massages shoulders and neck. I say, ‘Thanks. That’s fine now.’ He keeps going and won’t stop and just asks whether my boyfriend massages me. Asks if my boyfriend is a kiwi because kiwis aren’t into foreplay. I sit as far forward in my chair as possible and he grabs my shoulders and pulls me backwards into him.”
  • Wednesday 26th – “Crispin returns from lunch, sits down in the reception and asks me what I’m wearing today. He asks me to stand up and twirl around so he can see. I remain seated.”
  • Friday 28th – “Crispin asks me to try on a skirt he bought for his daughter to check the size. Asks if I want to change in the meeting room. I say, “No thank you,” and go downstairs to the lady’s bathroom. Skirt is long, pink and quite sheer. He tries to take a picture of me in it to send it to me. I decline and return downstairs. As I leave, he says it ‘looks nice from the back too’.”

Paul, narrating: The woman left Odey Asset Management within a few months. Not long after she got an email from the recruitment agency that had placed her at Odey Asset Management. It read:

“Odey Asset Management is taking the time to reevaluate all of their internal processes. As part of this, they’ve decided to complete a culture and conduct survey. Please keep this strictly confidential.”

Paul, narrating: Odey Asset Management had commissioned Simmons & Simmons, a leading city law firm, to do the survey, which among other things asks recipients whether they’d feel comfortable reporting inappropriate sexual conduct.

She called the recruitment agency directly and advised them not to continue sending young women there. The recruitment agency has told me that it no longer works with Odey Asset Management, but it did not say why. I don’t know what triggered the Simmons & Simmons review as Odey Asset Management didn’t get back to me on it. It may or may not have been triggered by another former receptionist who reportedly told the company’s HR department about Crispin Odey’s inappropriate behaviour towards her.

This may be something for the Financial Conduct Authority to investigate. The City regulator treats sexual harassment as misconduct, which it can punish through fines, suspensions, and prohibitions. The FCA does not disclose who it’s investigating, and its inquiries can take years to conclude.

For me, the most striking entry in the woman’s written record about her time at Odey Asset Management is from her first week there.

“Comes back from boozy lunch and corners me in the corridor. 

Him: ‘I could attack you now.’ 

Me: ‘Please don’t.’ 

Him: ‘You could sue me for that.’

Paul, narrating: Given Crispin Odey has not engaged with the substance of our reporting, it’s worth pointing out that when the Sunday Times and Bloomberg reported allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Crispin Odey, he strenuously denied them. The women in this podcast who alleged Crispin Odey assaulted them, haven’t spoken to one another. They live in different places. They work in different fields. They are different ages. Their allegations of assault span 1998 to 2021. Yet it is remarkable how the details of their accounts, which Crispin Odey says contain inaccuracies and falsehoods, overlap.

You’ll now hear those accounts voiced by actors.

“So I went to drinks and I met Crispin and I was working for someone who he knew. I was in a bit of a quandary about the next moves at work. So he said, ‘Come and chat to me.’ And because it was a friend’s drinks and he was great friends with lots of friends I knew, I thought that would be great because he knew my employer.”

“It was 2004. I was about 24, 25 years old. I’d been working for a few years in finance in London and I was introduced to him, to Crispin, at a wedding. He told me something like, ‘You can’t work where you are working. Come to me. You must come for an interview.’”

“I don’t really remember whether the meeting was in the morning or in the afternoon, but I remember exactly where it was. It was in this upstairs office at Odey Asset Management, which is a very fancy room with a very long table in it. There was some kind of square table and the walls covered with paintings and woodwork, this kind of old-fashioned look, you know the sort.”

“And so we went upstairs and we had a drink and then he got a phone call and one of his mates happened to be passing. So we ended up having a really nice dinner, all three of us. We chatted a bit over the next few months about work on the phone and stuff and I didn’t think anything about it.

“And then in the lead up to Christmas, I was in another work quandary and it was kind of getting quite bad. Crispin said, “Come and have dinner. Let’s talk about it. I can help you.” So we went to a restaurant in Belgravia. This was now in early December. And it was a really well lit restaurant. It was early. I always drove at that time because where I worked was about an hour out of London and so I didn’t drink. There were quite a few people around and the table was in the middle of the room and I felt very safe because why wouldn’t I?”

“As it was a social setting, I felt okay about it. But then he called me on my work line, which was a bit weird. He said, ‘Come for drinks at my house in Chelsea,’ on a Friday night. It felt odd.

“Anyway, I was wearing a black suit with trousers. I remember this very vividly and very formal short hair. And he was sitting on the other side of the table and then he started to get up and walk around and he was talking about all kinds of companies and gesticulating and giving me all his ideas. It was quite a fancy thing. He had a lot of ideas and thoughts.

And we started talking through all my issues at work. And at some stage not that far into dinner, he leaned over and he put both hands on both breasts, I think, over my shirt. And I was completely kind of taken aback.”

“We went back downstairs and he just lunged at me. He was groping everywhere and his tongue…”

“And then for some reason suddenly he was physically right over me and sort of, kind of attacking me, physically over someone who is sitting down and invading every single aspect of space. And sort of drumming his fingers on my chest and on my thighs and seemingly trying to kiss me I guess in some unspecified, disgusting way.”

“I was totally floored. It came out of the blue. It took me a moment or two to register and in order to sort of fend him off… I did… I kind of… Rather than do what I should have done, which is to just get up and leave, I sort of tried to make it okay in the way that a woman does often in that situation. So I tried to kind of talk my way out of it. I was like, ‘What are you doing? What are you doing?’ And he then lunged again and tried to sort of stuck his tongue into my mouth, at which point I kind of really went back and slapped him away.”

“I whacked him and I said, ‘What the fuck do you think is going on?’ And then I noticed he had his knob out. I managed to push him off me and left. I haven’t seen him since then.”

“It couldn’t have lasted more than 15 seconds because I kept pushing him away and so on and so forth. Or maybe it was longer. I can’t really remember. But it seems to me like it lasted forever. It was unforgettable.”

“And then I couldn’t really be polite, but I didn’t, again, do what I should have done, which was to leave. I said, ‘What are you doing? Why are you doing it?’ And that led to a conversation. I said, ‘What would happen if your wife–’ as I knew his wife, ‘What would happen if Nichola saw you?’ And it went on for quite a while, this kind of thing about his sex life essentially.”

“Subsequently, I was told that he drank a huge amount at lunch and therefore he was rarely sober. I realised that I was getting some kind of altered version, but it was completely random.”

“Anyway, he didn’t assault me again and I got out of there. And at the end of the dinner I realised that there were two empty bottles of wine on the table. So I hadn’t actually realised he had actually been very drunk.”

“There was no lead up, absolutely no lead up. You can’t go from literally talking about a company to being aggressed by a man who is literally three times my size. I don’t know how fat he is, but I mean, he’s enormous. It’s this huge bulk.”

“Anyway, so quite suddenly he realised that I wasn’t responding in any kind of positive way or he’d obviously made a mistake or he had just had enough of whatever it was that he needed and he left the meeting room and I never saw him again. He just walked out of the meeting room.”

“I was really shaken because the mutual friend who had introduced us at the party was a really good friend of mine and a really good friend of his. And so when I got home, I started to shake and cry. I felt really discombobulated and was just trying to take it all in, I suppose, because I had thought that he was a bit of a bumbling older sort of parental friend type. It came so out of the blue. It wasn’t so much the violation of the body, it was just the shock of having had this four-month friendship that that’s what he was actually after. And I hadn’t seen it.”

“I was frightened. I wasn’t frightened out of my wits because all this jabbing and so on. I don’t know. It didn’t feel like I was going to get raped. I felt that something was being stolen from me, something was being taken away from me very deliberately to humiliate me. And that’s exactly how it’s always felt. It’s always felt you’re a piece of meat. It doesn’t matter that you started a successful business. It doesn’t matter who you are, what your name is, you were just a piece of meat sitting in a chair and I could do this. Yes, that’s all it was.”

“When I told people about it, I realised it was like a bad secret. I hadn’t appreciated that it was known – his behaviour.”

“And I rang this mutual friend and I think the more shocking thing was the mutual friend, he said, ‘Oh dear, I was afraid he was going to do that.’”

Paul, narrating: The last woman who you heard from told a number of friends about the incident, wrote a diary entry about it and wrote to Crispin Odey. Her boss advised her to write to him detailing what he had done to her and how he made her feel. She did. And she got a reply back to her card in which he wrote, “I am really sorry. It didn’t feel like that kind of night and I certainly did not want to embarrass you. I have never wanted anything but the best for you. Is it unfair to feel so confused by your card? Lots of love, Crispin.”

“That was the last I saw or heard of him until I saw in 2020 that a woman was accusing him of assault and her account was so similar to mine. When this woman then took her case to court, I was actually initially excited. I thought, ‘This is it. This is like the snowball that we need,’ and I really wanted to sort of join forces because I didn’t really want to do it on my own. So I called the Met and I lodged my story and I said, ‘Look, there’s this case, it’s coming up in’– I think this was in the summer 2020 maybe, and it was coming up in the spring next year or something. And I said, ‘I would like to be a witness. I don’t want to lodge my own court case or whatever the legal term is, but I want to be a witness. And I’m prepared to be a witness and I’m prepared to be named in court. And I would like to tell my story in support of this woman, basically to prove bad character.’ I spoke to three people in total.”

Paul, narrating: She has shared her email exchanges with the Metropolitan Police with me.

“The first person said, ‘This will have to be investigated and if it’s investigated, you’ll have to open your own case.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to open my own case. I want to be a part of this case.’”

Paul, narrating: Then she read a press report about the court proceedings which had begun. She felt incensed that this one woman was left alone.

“And so I rang again and in that case I emailed the CPS. I found the name of her barrister and I found his email at the CPS and I emailed him. And I said, ‘Look, I’ve been talking to the Met. I’ve been told that I can’t do anything, but I’m just letting you know that the precise same thing happened to me, and if that’s useful, I would love to chat to you.’

“After that, a third woman from the Met calls, but this was now maybe three days before the case was in court. And she said: ‘This is all very unfortunate. We might have been able to use your account, but now it’s too late.’

“And then when he went to court, he had a statement to back up his good character, but I wasn’t permitted to give a statement to back up his bad character. And then this poor woman got completely decimated.”

Paul, narrating: But to hear that woman now you wouldn’t necessarily think she had been decimated.

“After the court case, I did feel that I achieved what I wanted for myself. Then I had this feeling of just standing up for myself. And I think other people may not be able to see that from the outside. But for me it was just the sense of bringing this into the light, to say, ‘I won’t be walked over. I just won’t be treated this way.’ And so there is an enormous sense of peace. It’s just like standing up to a massive bully. I just felt this incredible sense of peace and I really did feel a kind of sense of empowerment, actually.”

Paul, narrating: The judge in this case said the woman who gave evidence against Crispin Odey had a desire for publicity, an interest in his wealth and a vivid imagination. She always accepted that the case would be hard to prove. In a letter she wrote to the Crown Prosecution Service before the trial, she said that the chance to be heard would be a victory in itself. This is her in her own voice.

“Now, I may have taken a couple of blows on the way, but you just feel this enormous sense of self worth and that’s really worth a lot. Sorry…”

“… I just think I do feel very glad for doing it. I don’t regret it in any way.”

Paul, narrating: Every account of alleged sexual assault that I have documented dates from after this woman’s experience in 1998. Odey denied it and it’s the only one that’s ever been tested in court, and the judge clearly felt it didn’t meet the standard of proof needed for a criminal conviction, that there was reasonable doubt about the allegation. 

But the most unsettling allegation is the fifth one, which states from after the judge’s finding and which I haven’t talked about yet. It’s upsetting because of its forceful nature. The woman concerned, like the other woman, is well-connected. She confided in a mutual friend of hers and Crispin Odey’s that she had been assaulted by him at a private social event.

All I can say in order to protect her identity is that the allegation is similar in many respects to the others. Although this alleged assault includes one of the woman’s hands being forced onto his hard penis before she was able to free herself from his clutches. Again, we understand that this allegation dates from late 2021. That’s just months after Crispin Odey’s acquittal for assault.

The seriousness of that last allegation and how recent it is, is part of the answer to the question I asked myself at the beginning of this podcast: What are the rights and wrongs of reporting on everything I’ve heard when Crispin Odey walked from court, told that his reputation was intact not so long ago?

The argument, of course, is that for a newsroom like ours not to report it, backed up as it is by the accounts of all the other women I’ve spoken to, would have the potential to leave other women open to the risk of assault, a general failure to take seriously those kinds of allegations would leave powerful men able to carry on doing whatever they’ve done in the past.

We don’t know how Crispin Odey himself would respond to the new allegations against him. What we know he said in court only tells us that he believed he was there because of a misunderstanding. He’d surely say his reputation, built over many years and kitemarked by a judge, is a precious thing. To put a dent in it on the basis of incorrect information, as he claims we’re doing, amounts to irresponsible journalism.

When we told him we were making this podcast and the nature of the allegations that would be in it, he threatened us with consequences, unspecified but not hard to imagine.

It’s worth me saying again that the accounts I’ve heard from the women I’ve talked to are, at the same time, independent of each other and consistent. Of course, I can’t use them to suggest that the court got it wrong in Crispin Odey’s case because those allegations weren’t heard there. But the system gets it wrong. It lets down women who come forward to complain they have been sexually abused. 

Prosecution and conviction rates are appallingly low and the public is onto it as a problem. Within that system, the incentives for women who’ve been abused to step forward can feel low to nonexistent, and that’s particularly so if women feel, as the women I’ve talked to do, that it’s possible for a man like Crispin Odey to hold onto a reputation that their testimony suggests he may not deserve.

This story was reported by me, Paul Caruana Galizia. It was produced by Matt Russell. Additional production was by James Wilson. And the sound design was by Sam Mbatha. The editors were Jasper Corbett and Ceri Thomas.

This podcast was updated after publication in the interests of people involved. 

How we got here

We began reporting on Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover when he first made an offer to buy it back in April. He then tried to pull out of the deal and we were going to publish this episode amidst the legal wranglings that followed, but when the world’s richest man agreed to go ahead at the original price of $44bn we decided to wait. That decision to delay meant we could get much closer to what went on in those months between his initial offer and him finally walking through the door of Twitter HQ as its new owner. A senior source who was at the company before the takeover told us that Twitter’s previous CEO had an “aggressive” plan to get rid of almost half of Twitter’s staff, which gives some important context to Elon Musk’s decision to fire a similar number within a week of taking over. But there are legitimate concerns about his attitude towards content moderation. Whole teams responsible for combating hate speech and disinformation were disbanded, which could make the Twitter experience much worse. Lewis Vickers, Producer


Past reporting

  • Listen
  • Read
  • Watch